In 2020, the Pittsburgh Steelers were fortunate to win 11 regular season games despite having the league’s worst run offense.
They ranked 28th in total carries (373) and tied for 30th in rushing touchdowns with 12.
However, they were dead last in total yards (1,351), yards per carry (3.6), and yards per game (84.4).
Without question, an eye test of the team’s performance and a glance at the stats persuaded them to draft a running back with their earliest pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Mock drafts suggested that Pittsburgh would select Alabama running back Najee Harris with the No. 24 overall selection.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 30, 2021
General manager Kevin Colbert made those projections a reality on draft night.
Taking Harris was a no-brainer for the six-time Super Bowl winners.
In his final year at Tuscaloosa, he was a First-team All-American, Doak Walker Award winner, SEC Championship Game MVP, and a two-time national champion.
The California native had 1,466 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns during his senior year.
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 1, 2021
A year before, he took over for Damien Harris as the Crimson Tide’s starting running back and finished with 1,224 yards.
His lofty credentials led to Steelers’ faithful declaring that he was the missing piece for another Super Bowl run before Ben Roethlisberger retires.
But as always, football is a team sport, and a running back’s success depends on other players, especially the offensive linemen.
The men in front are responsible for creating the holes he can burst through for big gains.
Unfortunately, the Steelers experienced a departure from some of their more experienced blockers.
That development affected Harris’ game.
Harris Needs A Helping Hand
Only three of the nine offensive linemen on the Steelers’ 2020 active roster remain with the team a year later.
However, Hassenauer is not in the starting rotation, and the Steelers drafted two linemen to fill the other positions.
They took Illinois center Kendrick Green with the No. 87 overall pick of the 2021 Draft.
Kendrick Green stone walling a guy on gotta have it down. Progress!!! pic.twitter.com/fW9YzWHbCK
— Adam Steel (@RenegadeAdam) October 5, 2021
Texas A&M offensive tackle Dan Moore Jr. went to the Steelers in the fourth round.
Both rookies are starting for the team, and their learning curve will reveal growing pains throughout this season.
The talent is there, but it will take a while before they work well together with Okorafor, Dotson, and Trai Turner.
Therefore, it would be hard for Harris to establish the run if the blockers up front are still learning the ropes of the NFL game.
After four weeks, he is yet to have a 100-yard rushing game, but he already has a rushing and a receiving touchdown.
He also had a 102-yard receiving game against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals.
Getting more snaps will help Green and Moore become more confident on the field.
When they improve, it will be easier for Harris to run loose and punish the defenders.